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Phuket vs Penang – The two pearls go head to head

Tim Newton

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Phuket vs Penang – The two pearls go head to head | The Thaiger

…including some reflections by guest writer TravellingMitch

There was a time when Penang was the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, for some western travellers the only ‘orient’ they would know outside of Singapore and maybe Hong Kong.

It was the 1950s and 60s when jet travel had just started making the world smaller and the western middle class were in search of new and exotic locations.

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by The Thaiger

But there’s a time when Penang’s popularity just fell off the map. In the mid 1970s people started to visit the little Thai island of Phuket and a new ‘pearl’ would go on to being a tourist favourite, and still is – Phuket, The Pearl of the Andaman.

The two islands are, geographically, very close and share a similar history of both European and Chinese trading heritage. Walking around Phuket Town and Georgetown will display exactly the same style of sino-porteuguese architecture although Penang has always had a lot more grand colonial buildings due to the British colonisation of Malaya.

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by The Thaiger

The stark difference is that Phuket has many beaches. Penang has few and the water isn’t clear. Phuket has Patong and there’s really no equivalent in Penang (many would argue that’s a good thing).

Penang has much better roads and organised infrastructure, probably due to some early colonial planning and the large flat spaces for residential areas and towns.

And Phuket is Thai and Penang is Malaysian with all the cultural and religious differences that provide each island it’s own distinct personality.

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by The Thaiger

If you want to drive from one island to the other it will take about 9-10 hours and you’ll cover 647 Km. There are direct flights with Firefly five days a week (it varies at different times of the year). As the crow flies, the islands are 357 Km apart.

There are two daily flights from one island to the other, one with Firefly Airline on a turbo prop aircraft and the other with Air Asia in an Airbus 320. In both cases the flight will take you around an hour, a bit faster in the jet. (Firefly is usually five days a week)

‘TravellingMitch’ travelled to the two islands back in 2010 and penned an article which, with permission, we’ve re-printed in bold.

Compared to Phuket, Penang is very low key. There is not the choice or variety of areas and scenery to stay in Penang as there are in Phuket. Penang is limited with its tourist areas, the town of Georgetown, and the beach resorts of Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringi, and the fact that the sea is not clear.

Having said that nothing is manic, like say Patong in Phuket, and Batu Ferringhi feels a bit like a small and quiet Karon or Kata. Tanjung Bungah is very quiet indeed. The hotels in the beach resorts in Penang are right on the beach.

Nothing much has changed since 2010, then…

Phuket is a place where you can just about find it all. You want mega busy with bars, shops coming out of your ears, Phuket has it. You want to be partying all night, Phuket has it. You want remote 5* luxury, Phuket has it. You want something in between, Phuket has it. I hate to say Phuket has it all, but will say that Phuket has a huge range and choice of hotels and locations when compared to Penang. Not many hotels directly on the beach in the well known areas like Patong, Karon and Kata, but many of the more remoter beaches have hotels right on the sand, and as they are only 20mins from places like Patong are very popular.

Think that the 20 minute travelling time has blown out a bit since 2010…

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by The Thaiger

Penang is more sedate, and at the moment happy with being Penang. Only has 1, maybe 2 beach areas and the sea is a bit iffy but Penang is still food heaven, has a much more laid back quality and does not have that really busy feel [even if it is] that you get in Phuket. Not much in the way of night life for those wanting to party until the early hours but there are a couple of night clubs in Georgetown. The only worry is if people try to turn Batu Ferringhi into Patong.

That hasn’t happened, yet…

Phuket wins hands down on beaches. Penang does not compare. The water is clean and clear and snorkelling possible right off hotel beach even in the busiest resorts in Phuket whilst Penang is not so lucky.

And Penang doesn’t have the assortment of islands off the main island that Phuket has…

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by The Thaiger

Both are equal contenders for food. There is a good choice of cheap local food around in both but in Penang you get a wonderful eclectic mix of Malaysia, Thai, South East Asian, Chinese and Indian. All are very, very tasty.

Penang’s food scene is legendary and on-par with anywhere in the world offering excellent quality street and restaurant food.

Shopping, well, Phuket gets it, but only just, and that is because of there are more markets – a thing that Penang is limited in. Although the modern malls are the same the world round, and most modern malls you could be anywhere, Bluewater in the UK, or the Gurney Plaza / Queensbay in Penang or Central Festival in Phuket. The brands and shops are pretty global and in the modern malls only the signs give the indication where you are.

Would have to put the newest shopping malls in Penang ahead of Phuket for now (as we await the opening of the new Central Festival in Phuket next year).

Generally we found that the cost of clothes is about the same as the UK throughout both Malaysia and Thailand, be it the hi-end or mid range original items or replicas. Bargaining is a necessity in SE Asia, and you will get a better deal the more you buy. There are some great replica products and some absolute rotters in both countries, shop wisely and expect to pay more for the better stuff, again prices are about the same. Given the cheap price of clothes and other products in the UK and the weak pound when travelling, we often found we were actually paying more than we could at home.

That also hasn’t changed but with the Thai baht surging it’s making costs higher for international tourists than before.

There are some lovely souvenirs in both, and the usual household stuff like cushion covers and table runners, which are popular, and DVD prices are pretty similar throughout both Phuket and Penang. Although I would say that Phuket, with the larger number of markets does seem to have a larger choice.

We always use local laundries to avoid the expensive hotel laundry fees. You will get a really good deal by the kilo for washing, and washing and ironing in both Penang and Phuket. Came back clean and fresh.

Hotels are pretty standard for both places, and not much to choose, a bad 3* and a wonderful 5* are pretty much the same the world round. There is a huge number of hotels in Phuket to pick from compared to the number in Penang. You do find many more really nice smaller boutique hotels in Phuket – and they are a real pleasure.

The ’boutique hotel’ scene and the newer high rise ‘residences’ are a growing trend in Penang with superior planning and development controls than the haphazard condo boom in Phuket.

Both island have amazing sights both natural and man made. Both have the culture of their old towns, Georgetown and Phuket Town. There is a great choice of things to see and do, and as what to see and do is a very personal thing no one could get bored in either as long as they have done their homework.

Georgetown is a lot larger than Phuket Town and is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. This has dampened a lot of the renovation of the old shop houses in Georgetown compared to what we’ve seen around Phuket in the past decade. But you could wander around Georgetown for days whereas Phuket Town might take you an afternoon at best.

So, I guess there is no real comparison, they are both very different, and it will depend on what each person wants for their experience to which is the better option. Please don’t go to one expecting the other. But if you do plenty of reading and research you will see which one is for you. Or you might be like us and love them both for what they are.

Couldn’t agree more, thanks TravellingMitch.

Phuket vs Penang - The two pearls go head to head | News by The Thaiger

AREA Phuket 576 Sq Km, Penang 1,048 Sq Km

POPULATION Phuket 480,000, Penang 1.7 million

 

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Read more headlines, reports & breaking news in Phuket. Or catch up on your Thailand news.

Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 360 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now CEO and writer for The Thaiger - Website, Radio, TV, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He presented for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and provides stories for Feature Story News as the south east Asian correspondent.

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News

30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands

Greeley Pulitzer

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30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands | The Thaiger

Tourists were treated to the sight of a school of dolphins in the Similan Islands off the Phang Nga coast on Sunday.

Tour organisers said that around 30 dolphins swam close to the boat six or seven miles offshore, creating excitement for passengers. It was the first time dolphins had been seen in the vicinity since October 15.

The Similan Islands National Park director said they were bottlenose dolphins and were among several species now returning to the area following a five-year closure of the park for environmental rehabilitation. Food is again plentiful there for them, he said.

Tourists are forbidden to feed wildlife lest the free handouts alter the animals’ natural behaviour, and the park’s waters are also very sensitive to contamination from human disease and marine debris, according to the director.

SOURCE: nationthailand.com

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Patong

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms

The Thaiger

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Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | The Thaiger

by Sophie Deviller

Hotels on Thailand’s most popular holiday island are being forced to slash prices, with rooms left vacant and beaches sparse as Thailand’s tourism chiefs struggle with a plunge in Chinese visitors caused by the US trade war and a stronger baht. Phuket was the most visited destination in the country last year, after Bangkok, and a good gauge of the state of its crucial travel industry.

Tourism accounts for 18% of Thailand’s gross domestic product and Chinese holidaymakers make up more than a quarter of total arrivals. But while 2.2 million people from the country visited in 2018, according to official figures, the numbers for January-September were down almost 20% year on year.

Claude de Crissey, the French Honorary Consul in Phuket and owner of about 40 rooms in the Patong Beach area, says Chinese tourists are usually present even during the current low season.

“That was not the case this year,” he said, adding he had to lower his prices by as much as 50%.

The problem is not only in Phuket, with hotels also struggling to fill rooms in the seaside resort of Pattaya on the mainland and on Koh Samui.

Trade tensions with the US have already made some Chinese reluctant to take holidays owing to uncertainty back home, while the Thai baht has risen about 10% against the yuan this year.

A boating disaster off Phuket’s coast that killed 47 Chinese holidaymakers in July 2018 also scared some off.

“We are worried,” said an industry insider, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic in a country where tourism provides tens of thousands of jobs. Adding to the headache is the fact that more than 3,000 new hotel rooms are being constructed on the island, raising the question of who will fill them.

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

“In terms of business, it’s not good,” said Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, vice-president of the association of hotels in Thailand and director of Vijitt Resort.

“Because … we have more hotels, more rooms to sell, we have more restaurants, more coffee shops.”

Still, tourism authority chairman Yuthasak Supasorn said he remained “optimistic.”

“We should reach our goal of 39.8 million foreign visitors.”

However, that is only up from 38.2 million in 2018, much less than the jump seen from the previous year’s total of 35.6 million.

Counting on India

Now hoteliers and tour package operators are targeting visitors from elsewhere, particularly India, which experts see as a huge untapped market.

A rapid expansion of the middle class in India, increased direct flights and visa-free travel have prompted Thailand to revise forecasts upwards.

It now expects two million Indian tourists this year, after an increase of nearly 25% on-year in the first seven months. But for now, the lower arrivals is evident on the streets of Phuket.

“I’ve never seen anything as bad as what it is at the moment,” said Paul Scott from Australia, who said he has been coming to Thailand for 15 years.

He mainly blamed the stronger baht for the drop-off but also the fact that Thailand wasn’t the untouched vacation paradise it once was. “Now it’s not so new … and it’s not cheap,” he said.

SOURCE: AFP

Phuket hotels slashing the price of rooms | News by The Thaiger

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Events

The 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle fun run attracts more than 4,000 runners

The Thaiger

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The 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle fun run attracts more than 4,000 runners | The Thaiger

4,000 runners from Thailand and overseas took part in the 15th Mai Khao Marine Turtle Fun Run and Half Marathon 2019 yesterday, starting from the Phuket Gateway.

The event is expected to raise 700,000 baht for the charity, now in its 15th year. The money raised goes towards to The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which is committed to protecting the marine and coastal environment, and ecosystems, for the wellbeing of sea turtles that nest in the Mai Khao beach and the surrounding areas.

The annual race also provides funds for thePhuket Marine Biological Centre’s Injured Turtle Rehabilitation Program and The Third NavalArea Command’s Turtle Hatchery Program.

The race was in its 15th year and runners of all ages and abilities took part in the race. The morning’s racing was divided into five categories – the 21.1km half marathon, 10.5km mini- marathon, 5km fun run and 3k family run and VIP participants for all the races. The route of 21.1 kilometre race took runners northwest along the Haad Sai Kaew beach towards Thao Thepkasattri bridge, past the rural road No. 3006, run along the road – Pi Lai viewpoint area returned back along the T. Baan Tha Nun to the iconic Sarasin bridge before finished the half marathon in the Phuket Gateway.

For Mini Marathon 10.5 km – Over all category, Mr. Chinnawat Changlek clocked 39 minutes and 40 seconds to clinch victory in the male half marathon, winning prize money and a trophy with the signature of Phuket’s Governor. The winner in the female mini marathon was Surakarn Wanna with a time of 47 minutes and 47 seconds.

Winners also received a prize gift voucher as well as a medal. Congratulations to all participants.

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